Fairfield Finding Options to Surround Marcus Gilbert

Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson quickly remade the Stags roster with plenty of additions over this offseason, but one junior college transfer has been especially surprising. 

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Fairfield junior Marcus Gilbert will need help from his teammates to ease the pressure off being the go to guy. (photo courtesy: Stockton Photo)

That has been junior Mike Kirkland Jr., the 6’7″ transfer from Eastern Florida State College, who scored 13 points in his debut for the Stags in their 74-67 exhibition win over Bridgeport.

“He’s probably right at the level and possibly higher,” Johnson said if the West Port High School native has exceeded his expectations. “He’s just incredibly versatile offensively and defensively.”

Kirkland, who made three three-pointers in the exhibition win, has showed progress on his shooting. Johnson said they focused on him improving from behind the arc and the junior has come along faster than he thought he would.

“He picked up the offense, he picked up the defense, I’m as excited about him today as I was when we signed him,” Johnson said. “I expect him to be at the core of what we’re doing the next two years. He’s really one of those guys that will now share the load with Marcus [Gilbert] and K.J. moving forward.”

While he is still considering who might start on Friday night against Central Connecticut in their season opener, Johnson said he will start Rose, Marcus Gilbert, Amadou Sidibe and likely Kirkland Jr. After that he is deciding between playing freshman Jerome Segura, junior college transfer Demarcus Threatt and senior Steven Johnston.

“The best thing about [Segura] is he can play with other very good guards, so he will play with K.J. at times, he can play with other good guards and we’re going to have him for four years,” Johnson said of the Houston freshman. “He’s just really versatile and compatible. If we don’t start them together, they’re going to be playing together at times, there’s no question.”

As for Kirkland Jr., the biggest surprise has been how quickly the junior college transfer has picked up the system in a matter of months.

“His versatility and his IQ, it has surprised me,” Johnson said of Kirkland Jr. “Things just come to him quickly and he’s able to be productive on both ends doing big things.”

“I think in general, it seems like our team has come together pretty quickly considering four freshmen coming in and two junior transfers, but that’s all going to get tested over the next two months. I just like how our team chemistry has come together pretty quickly relative to this time in past years I’ve been coaching.”

The Florida junior should help aid his classmate Marcus Gilbert, who after finishing second on the team with 13.9 points per game last season, is ready to take his game to another level.

“I don’t think Marcus is going to feel pressure, I think he’s put a lot of work in to be a good player and he has no problem with trying to be great,” Johnson said. “He wants the next jump from where he is now to being a great player in this league, so to me that’s someone who’s not going to have an issue with pressure.”

It will be up to Rose, Kirkland Jr. and other teammates to help open up the floor for the younger Gilbert, who will be prominently featured in most opposing scouting reports.

“I think other guys stepping up like K.J., Mike Kirkland and Amadou when they step up, I think in that sense it can take pressure off, but I don’t think there’s any mental pressure,” Johnson said. “Marcus Gilbert wants to be a great player the next two seasons and then, quite frankly, he’ll make money playing this game and that’s his focus.”

Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference and more for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.

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